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LAKERS VS. CELTICS / TRANSITION GAME

How the Lakers can defy playoff history

June 17, 2008|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

The Lakers are trying to become the first team to win the last two games on the road in the NBA Finals since the league installed a 2-3-2 format in 1985.

A challenge? Definitely. Impossible? Not at all.

This is definitely the biggest test of Phil Jackson's coaching career, but it's not an unfamiliar one. Just look back at Jackson's previous championship teams. Their title runs were loaded with pressure postseason road victories.

His Chicago teams earned key wins at New York, Detroit and Utah en route to six NBA titles, and his Lakers won big games at Portland, Sacramento, Indiana and Philadelphia in their three championship runs.

These Lakers will have to win back to back at TD Banknorth Garden, starting with Game 6 tonight. But here's a rough blueprint on how they could do it:

* Start strong: The Lakers won playoff games at Denver, Utah and San Antonio by getting an early lead and making the home team play catch-up. That has to happen again against the Celtics.

And this is where Lakers forward Vladimir Radmanovic needs to step up and earn his paycheck.

Boston will be trying to keep Kobe Bryant from taking over early. The key for the Lakers will be ball movement. If they are patient and willing to make the extra pass from one side of the court to the other, the Celtics' defense will be vulnerable to Radmanovic's long-range shooting. But the streak shooter will have to make every shot count.

* Don't get Pierced: If there were any questions about the heart and skills of Boston's Paul Pierce, they've been answered in the Finals. Pierce has dominated the Lakers, who have tried at least five defenders against him with limited success.

By now, the Lakers should know that even though Pierce is right-handed, he loves to go left on quick drives to the basket. Somehow, that part of the scouting report has been lost on Radmanovic, Luke Walton, Trevor Ariza, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom and even Bryant.

Whoever defends Pierce in Game 6 has to be determined to play straight up and not cheat over to his right hand. That means the Lakers have to move their feet on the perimeter and stop reaching for steals.

A tough job for sure, but it's something the Lakers must do to force Pierce to shoot from the perimeter early in the game. The Lakers simply cannot let Pierce find his rhythm with drives to the basket.

* Have a backup plan: The Celtics' P.J. Brown, James Posey, Leon Powe and Eddie House have been difference-makers in the series, outplaying Lakers reserves mainly through consistent determination.

The Lakers' bench has to win this battle in Game 6.

Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Walton and Ariza have had their moments in the Finals, but their overall contributions have been limited. Jackson even dusted off seldom-used Chris Mihm in place of backup big man Ronny Turiaf for a couple of minutes in Game 5.

Lakers reserves need to play smart and remember not to mistake activity for production -- a key point specifically for Vujacic and Walton, who have occasionally hurt the Lakers with ill-advised moves on both ends of the court.

Summary: The Celtics have proved that they can play shut-down defense, but the Lakers' offense has still made several impressive runs during the series. As usual, the key is Bryant, who has averaged a team-high 26.4 points and shot 42.2% but also has 19 turnovers.

The turnovers should be a reminder to him that it's better that he complete passes within the triangle offense rather than freelance on his own. If Bryant picks his spots and gets balanced contributions from his teammates, expect the Lakers to push the Finals to seven games.

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lonnie.white@latimes.com

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